The National Convention in St. Louis

Our Own Arch of Triumph:  St. Louis Convention Highlights

Within sight of St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch, this year’s annual convention delegates gathered at the historic Union Station Hotel for three days of presentations, workshops, addresses, and networking. The opening ceremonies Thursday evening welcomed the 485 students, faculty, and their guests representing close to one hundred chapters. One brief item of business involved a constitutional vote affecting the national student representatives; the assembled delegates overwhelmingly approved the motion so that student reps’ two-year terms are now staggered, allowing increased mentoring and consistency among the student leadership.
Dr. Dennis Richardson provided the keynote address Thursday evening. His talk underscored the convention theme, The Future of Water, by introducing the delegates to high-impact health initiatives in Bawa, Cameroon. His descriptions of his first-hand involvement with the Bawa Health Initiative, illustrating his scholarship as a helminthologist as well as his humanitarian determination to improve world conditions, motivated and inspired all listeners. Dr. Richardson was a popular and high-profile member of the convention, leading with Dr. Bill Clemente, National Council Vice President, the Walk for Water fundraiser Friday afternoon, when convention delegates walked toward the Mississippi down the streets of St. Louis. All told, delegates contributed $5,700 toward the BHI’s drive to install wells and latrines in Bawa this year, and many chapters left with plans for campus-based projects for next year. 
A dynamic poster forum inaugurated the student presentations Thursday evening, with delegates enjoying coffee and dessert as they mingled in the Midway among the dozens of researched and creative arts posters. The intensity of student presentations continued Friday and Saturday morning, nearly 300 students presentations total, with one new element this year:  the Collaborative Research Project prize. Five campuses participated in the eight-month project, tailoring the main topic, The Future of Water, to their campus research teams. Outside evaluators Dr. Richardson and Dr. Wasit Wulamu from St. Louis University  judged the papers, posters, and oral presentations of these five groups, and the team from Gardner-Webb University, with a project on “Water, Economics, Ethics, and Fracking: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing” took home the $5,000 prize. 
If Tennyson was right, and “all experience is an arch,” then the chapter-strengthening sessions which punctuated the Friday morning agenda, building on the campus experience of the seasoned presenters, offered a new vista for all the delegates. These sessions, generally in workshop format, have been distilled for wide distribution and will be made available on the Alpha Chi website under the chapters tab. 
A highlight of any convention is hearing from the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, and General Tommy Franks provided no exception. Inducted into the Texas Alpha Theta chapter at the University of Texas at Arlington in 1971, he completed a nearly four-decade career in the United States Army as a four-star general, most visibly serving as the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Central Command in the days after 9/11 during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The recipient of three Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars, four Distinguished Service Medals, The Medal of Freedom, and the Order of the British Empire among many, many other military and civilian awards, he spoke in a down-home and direct manner to the delegates about the difference between their IQ, AQ (awareness quotient) and WQ (willingness quotient), assuring them that “having it” and “doing something with it” were two different things. After a standing ovation, he answered questions from the students and reiterated that receiving his award filled him with pride, since his academic journey had been filled with second chances.
The closing ceremonies Saturday morning culminated with cheer after cheer: farewells to retiring Georgia Nu sponsor Dr. Mark Stevens and National Council member Dr. Paul Michelson, introductions of new Council members and thanks to outgoing student reps,  announcement of the national scholarship recipients and the 28 convention prize winners, the highly-anticipated tradition of the convention highlights reel, a tribute to Lara Noah on her twenty-year anniversary with Alpha Chi, and the announcement of the March 15-17 convention in Chicago. With generous research scholarships available to support chapter travel, next year’s convention can be on every chapter’s agenda. 
Read a South Carolina Iota member's convention write-up here.
Then check out National Council Vice-President Bill Clemente's convention photos in three sets: herehere, and here. Don't forget to view and share this year's convention slideshow, also by Bill Clemente!

2014 National Convention Program (.pdf)